David Gordon Green
Let me lay a few images on you: 1) Environmental activist and electric car poster boy Ed Begley Jr. packing heat and dropping f-bombs like pocket change. 2) Petite Rosie Perez putting the smack down on James Franco. 3) Danny McBride baking a cake to commemorate the birthday of his dead cat. 4) Seth Rogen feeling insecure when he meets his high school girlfriend’s hot male classmate who’s wowed her, not with his muscles, but his ability to do a killer Jeff Goldblum impression.
No, my friend, these are not hallucinations. Instead, welcome to director David Gordon Green’s stoner comedy Pineapple Express, which, paying homage to Spike Lee’s term-of-choice, could be called a "Judd Apatow Joint." Emulating 70’s stoner classics from its opening credits, Express gets a much-needed credibility boost, as award-winning writer/director David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, George Washington) and his talented cinematographer Tim Orr turn what could have been a Harold and Kumar meets Cheech and Chong rip-off into something that’s more beautifully photographed and painstakingly edited than one would assume such a comedy should be.
Yet, that’s not to say it’s George Washington 2. In producer Apatow’s Pineapple Express, "everybody must get stoned" and in the process, laugh themselves silly. That’s right, in the latest trippy offering from the informal Judd Apatow School of Comedic Filmmaking, following Knocked Up, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and Superbad, co-screenwriter and star Seth Rogen plays a process server with two passions in life: weed and talk radio.
When he isn’t donning elaborate costumes to surprise his “targets” with subpoenas, Rogen’s Dale Denton can usually be found driving down the highway, joint and steering wheel in one hand, and cell phone in the other, spouting off his own life lessons to whatever unfortunate DJ happens to be on the air. Tackling every issue, from his obvious ardent support of the legalization of marijuana, to trying to justify to the world—and disbelieving audiences—his improbable relationship with Angie (Amber Heard) a pretty, eighteen year old blonde, Dale coasts through his days, seemingly without any greater ambition than receiving the perfect smoke and giving the perfect pearl of wisdom.
While the logic of Dale and Angie: The Couple, makes as much sense as Leah Remini and Kevin James on The King of Queens, Rogen and his co-writer Evan Goldberg manage to cull a great deal of unexpected humor from the situation as Dale proceeds to surprise Angie with a visit in two of the film’s funniest scenes. The first occurs early into Express, when he arrives at her high school and gets busted by faculty within minutes; then, in one of the most uproarious sequences, after he shows up, bleeding and dirty, for dinner with her parents on an evening gone horribly wrong. However, in this instance - as in every time he’s paired alongside James Franco - Rogen is instantly upstaged by Angela’s father, played by Ed Begley Jr. as an uncharacteristic and downright hysterical Clint Eastwood type, eager to unload his rifle into his daughter’s loser beau.
Why is Dale bleeding and dirty, you might ask? Well, it’s a long story, but keeping the dwindling attention spans of the target stoner crowd in mind, it can best be summed up in one name: Saul Silver. Shortly after Dale agrees to Angie's request to finally meet the parents, he predictably retreats to his loyal drug dealer’s house, to take the edge off before continuing on to deliver the rest of his assigned subpoenas.
Like Begley, by playing against type, serious Golden Globe winning actor James Franco (TV’s James Dean) manages to score the greatest laughs by seemingly channeling both Brad Pitt in True Romance and Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High in his role as the perpetually stoned drug dealer, Saul Silver. Ridiculously clueless and desperately lonely, save for his adoration for his elderly grandmother, Saul is the type of dealer who claims "lingerers" are bummers yet when it comes to his relationship with his client of two months-- Dale-- he tries to lure him into hanging out by any means necessary.
Like most potheads, Saul’s conversation changes topics from one moment to the next, and Franco shows amazing untapped comedic potential by nailing every joke right from the start, gaining our empathy and winning us over with his portrayal of a morally questionable yet lovable loser. While he’s unable to persuade Dale into staying, either by watching The Jeffersons on one of his two televisions airing different programs simultaneously, or with his satellite radio, Dale can’t resist the chance to light Saul’s unusual “cross joint.” Additionally, while Saul pawns off low-quality fare to his less-deserving clientèle, Dale realizes that he’s been sold the first batch of high quality "Pineapple Express" pot (which Saul claims is the “dopest dope” he’s ever smoked); it’s so good that Saul explains it’s nearly a shame to smoke it since it’s “like killing a unicorn.”
Unfortunately, after Dale leaves his dealer’s apartment to serve one last subpoena, he experiences the ultimate buzz-kill when he witnesses an actual killing by sleazy drug kingpin Ted Jones (Office Space's Gary Cole) and Rosie Perez's crooked cop, Carol. During his chaotic escape, he leaves the rest of his joint at the scene of the crime, and sure enough, after discovering that Ted is Saul’s supplier, Saul and Dale have to flee their homes to outrun not only Ted and Carol, but also a duo of killers sent after the bumbling pair.
Comedic adventure ensues, and it starts out strong, with a genuinely hilarious evening spent in the woods (which goes from The Marx Brothers to The Blair Witch Project in a matter of seconds), then builds to even funnier effect when they encounter Saul’s double crossing, kimono wearing middle-man Red (a terrifically inventive Danny McBride).
But the film takes an ill-conceived turn when it replaces humor for ultra-violent action. The initial fight between Red, Dale and Saul recalls the creative high-jinks and absurdity of Cato Fong and Inspector Clouseau’s fights in the original Pink Panther movies and are excellently staged by Pineapple’s stunt coordinator Gary Hymes (Wanted, The Italian Job). The sight-gags have to be seen to be believed, as Saul jumps up and down on a portable phone in a shower, and Red hits Saul repeatedly with a dust-buster, but unfortunately, the humor and gags soon become increasingly violent.
Despite my belief that when it came to the Apatow trademark of earning its R rating to the "nth" degree, any alternative to the gross-out gags was preferable, the violence in Express crosses the line, especially in an overly long final battle that's shot to resemble a war film. Thus, much like its constantly dazed and confused characters, Pineapple Express throws the viewers off balance by the film’s constant questioning of its tone.
Green, Rogen, and Apatow never seem entirely sure whether they want to make the film a no-holds-barred action movie as homage to Tarantino, or just a buddy comedy turned “bromance,” as the relationship between Saul and Dale begins to blur the lines between comically genre-inspired homoeroticism (think Hot Fuzz and Top Gun) and the typical frat-pack feeling of similarly themed comedies such as Wedding Crashers or Talladega Nights. However, despite a funny, if far too brief performance by Rosie Perez, the film proves to be this week’s male answer to the release of The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants 2, or as Pineapple’s sexist Red would argue, “bros before hoes.”
Coming, as it does, right off the heels of the release of Step Brothers, and just before next week’s Ben Stiller comedy, Tropic Thunder, only time will tell how reliable the attention spans of audiences will be in remembering Pineapple as an unlikely Apatow joint.
Although the films are very different and I have yet to see Tropic Thunder, the laughter at the Pineapple screening was so raucous that I know I missed half the jokes. So despite fighting an overwhelming urge to look at my watch as its final battle raged on -- based on sheer entertainment value alone -- I think I'd go back to ride the Express once more before revisiting the humorous but unusually cruel, Step Brothers again.
And overwhelmingly, the wish for a repeat viewing would be to appreciate again the awe-inspiring range of Spiderman and Tristan and Isolde’s James Franco, in a role he plays so well that it’s a shame that comedies are frequently overlooked during awards season. However, if you want more reasons, just go back and reread the opening paragraph, where the price of admission is justified right there in black and white, in case your mind (like Saul's) has begun to wander.